It’s Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday! Pączki Day! However you refer to your last hurrah before Lent, it’s definitely a day to celebrate.
My small, midwestern community of Watertown isn’t exactly the epicenter of purple, green and gold revelry. But we do enjoy an over-indulgence of Pączki, those sugary, deep-fried pastries filled to plumpness with fruit or custard. What’s most fun is that we satisfy this Polish fix at a Mexican bakery located in our historically German town.
Ethnic diversity at its best, yes? Well, sort of.
In reality, Watertown isn’t the greatest example of diversity. Our 2010 census shows a population of 23,861, of which 94% are white, 0.8% African American (up from 0.25%), 0.3% Native American, 0.8% Asian (up from 0.61%), 2.7% from other races (up from 1.69%), and 1.4% from two or more races. The greatest increase are Latinos, who now make up 7.3% of the population (up from 4.94%).
This near homogeneity is common to most of the rural Midwest, yet the multiculturalism of our Pączki portrays a gradual shift that’s occurring in even the smallest of towns. According to this Washington Post article, the diversity of communities is changing across the country, but the most rapid change is coming to areas that were previously the least diverse.
Let’s go back to the Pączki to fully appreciate the goodness of these transformations.
Pączki (debatably pronounced “pownch-key, in both its singular and plural forms) date back to Polish Catholicism during the Middle Ages. They were a creative way to use up all the sugar, eggs, butter and tasty treats in the house before the start of Lent, a period of 40 days in which such indulgences were forbidden.
Today’s Pączki is kind of like our American bismarck, which is kind of like the German berliner. Some might even call it a doughnut. But, oh, please don’t make these comparisons while standing in a Polish bakery. Pączki, which is celebrating a resurgence in Polish-concentrated cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, is made from an especially rich dough and a shot of grain alcohol. Think 400-500 calories of deep-fried deliciousness.
These cultural stories are fascinating, even when they’re not our own. They spark a curiosity to learn more, to find a connection, to appreciate the differences. How much more colorful (and tasty!) is life when everyone can be Polish on Pączki Day, Irish on St. Patty’s, and Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.
Originally, Pączki were filled with pork fat and fried in lard. During the 18th century, French chefs under the employ of Polish King Augustus III sweetened the Pączki’s quality with a richer dough and prune filling. Nowadays Paczki fans line up for a variety of fillings including fruit, chocolate, custard and even a hipster maple-flavored bacon.
My favorite? Hmmm, raspberry!
Diversity enhances creativity, does it not?
Scientific American says “being around people who are different than us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.” So very true. A diversity of ideas broadens our understanding. It challenges us to see beyond the confines of our own singularity. We cannot have such diversity without the multiculturalism we’re blessed with here in America.
Look around you
Your assignment for this week is to open your mind and your heart. Think positively. Look at the diversity around you.
How are others different than you? What beneficial attributes have they brought to your community that perhaps would not be there otherwise? What can you learn from them?
Please share your thoughts!